Alexander Ferreira - Manager, Business Development

Name: Alexander Ferreira

Age: 35

Born: Toronto, Ontario

Profession: Business Development, Technology Transfer

Ever wonder how a drug goes from a discovery in a lab all the way to the shelves at your local drug store? Technology transfer is the field that deals with discovering new inventions and turning them into a product on the market. Alex Ferreira talks about just one way you can mix business with science and turn it into a cool career!

What is a Business Development Manager?

The Business Development office is part of a research institute that deals with business contracts and technology transfer issues. Technology transfer is the process of developing practical applications that come from scientific research discoveries.

This requires us to get hold of new inventions and protect Intellectual Property (also called patenting) developed by scientists at the research institute. We then try to commercialize these new inventions on behalf of the scientists and the institute.

What kind of things can be intellectual property (IP)?

Any idea can be intellectual property and the term IP literally means a "product of the mind". However, in order to patent IP, which gives only you the right to commercialize your idea for a set period of time, it must be new, non-obvious and useful. In the sciences we see things like mathematical procedures, genes, drugs and even methods patented.

What was the last book you read? Jam it or can it?

The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov. Definitely, Jam it for those who like science fiction.

What's the coolest project that you got to work on?

Having a background in cell biology some of the coolest projects that I have worked on so far have been related to stem cell biology, specifically focusing on using stem cells to treat disease. But I have also worked with some of our scientists on projects related to using live viruses to fight cancer and treatments that have an anti-aging effect at the cellular level.

What is a typical day like for you?

Generally, I get to work between 8-9am and start my day by checking email/phone messages and dealing with them accordingly. A good part of my day is spent reviewing and negotiating contracts or agreements.

I get to meet with scientists to discuss inventions and the commercialization of their inventions. I also attend conferences and seminars related to the commercialization of biotechnology.

Usually, I call it a day between 5-6pm, but depending on the projects that we have on the go, I often work at home in the evenings.

What is the last movie you saw? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Pride and Prejudice. Thumbs up, especially if you are a Keira Knightly fan.

How long does it take to invent something and then get it on the market?

This is a hard one to answer. IP is created when you first think of an idea, but in order to patent an idea, you need proof of the concept and data to support the idea which can take many years. Without proof that your idea is useful, you will likely not be able to get a patent to protect the idea.

In this day and age, you need the protection that a patent offers in order to commercialize an invention. Typically, if an invention is brought to market, a commercial partner will have invested a lot of money to get it there and a patent gives them a chance to make a profit by preventing others from bringing a similar product to market.

Did you always want to be a Business Development Manager?

No, I had never heard of nor had any idea that such a job existed.

You just won a million dollars. What's the first thing you'd do?

Buy a cottage.

What courses in high school prepared you for this field?

Science, Accounting.

Where did you go to university?

University of Western Ontario.

How did you decide where to go?

Reputation of School.

What's your favorite hangout?

Home with my dogs.

Was there extra training required for this career after you finished university? If so, what?

Yes, I have taken a number of seminars/courses related to Business Development including courses on technology transfer, patents, contracts and negotiations. There is still a lot to learn and I expect there will be for a long while to come.

What is the coolest part of your job?

Talking with world-renowned scientists and having the opportunity to help make their inventions into medical/therapeutic products.

What's the worst part of your job?

Definitely the amount of time spent tied to a desk reviewing legal language in contracts and agreements... ie paperwork!

What's your biggest pet peeve?

That "Common Sense", is not all that common.

Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?

The worst mistake I have made so far has been to send an email, which thankfully did not include any confidential information, to the wrong recipient. With the confidential information that we deal with this could have been a serious error if the nature of the email had been different.

Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?

Do whatever you can to foster your entrepreneurial spirit. Start a summer business, learn to spot business opportunities in everyday life, try not to let the fear and risk of the unknown keep you from following your gut. And on the formal education side, if you can take some business courses related to contracts, marketing and negotiation, these will be a big help.

What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?

Innovation Strategy

Alliance for Commercialization of Canadian Technology

Intellectual Property Institute of Canada

The Association of University Technology Managers

Westlink Innovation Network

National Technology Transfer Center


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